Category Archives: media

On Voting, And Emma Nicholson


“If voting could change anything, they’d make it illegal.” Old saying, from the 1960s counterculture.
The latest eruption in the ongoing culture wars, fuelled by Twitter as ever, is against Baroness (Emma) Nicholson of Winterbourne, who has been stripped of her largely honorary post on the committee that awards the Booker Prize. Her late husband set up the award many years ago.
Her crime was to vote, again some years ago, against the legal establishment of gay marriage. Various authors, one of them gay, say this now makes her unsuitable.
Not entirely clear how this connects, especially as this is an honorary post, as I have said. I know a little about Nicholson. She appears to be a typical Shires Tory lady. I doubt she and I agree on anything much but I have to respect her views. She has done a lot of good work for the disabled.
The key point here, and one largely missed I think, is the word vote. Nicholson has been vilified and sacked because, in a democratic vote some years ago, she voted in a way that some now disapprove of. This is how democracy is supposed to work, a free and fair ballot on any subject, and to punish someone for voting the wrong way, some years later, negates the whole concept of democracy, then. And sets, I suggest, a very dark precedent.
For a fair discussion of all this, see today’s column by my fellow Suffolk resident, former colleague and a very brave journalist, Janice Turner.

On the 1960s, and progress

To the V&A for the You Say You Want A Revolution exhibition on the
years 1966 to 1970. There is a strict ban on photography. Which in the
spirit of the age I ignore, surreptitiously.
It is surprisingly moving. I was 10 in 1967 and have no excuse not to
remember it. Hair (actually 1968), Magical Mystery Tour… I remember
them. The 60s are a decade much derided, and there was a lot of
silliness about, well documented in the exhibition. I recall it all.
And does one really need to see the frock coat worn by Jimi Hendrix’s
drummer? More than one actually.
It was quite revealing, though. A lot of things that made an awful lot
of people’s lives an awful lot better started there. Women’s rights,
gay rights, black people’s rights, environmentalism.
You walk around the exhibition with the headphones on playing the
appropriate music. Which is then available in a 3 CD set. And there’s
a souvenir book.
The revolution will not be televised. It will be available in the gift
shop after your visit.

On The Independent

The late, great journalist James Cameron once likened the death of a national newspaper to the demise of an elephant. The stricken beast would sink to its knees, then onto its side, and the others in the herd would gather around to offer what succour they could, and then gradually drift away, realising that nothing could be done.

The Independent and its Sunday sister look like being the latest in the herd to succumb. I am not sure if a paper that can only persuade 40,000 people to hand over the full price each day can be seen as a national contender. But it was born three decades ago amid great idealism with the intention of providing readers with a viewpoint they could not get elsewhere.

An example: a royal wedding was once reported something like this: Traffic in central London was disrupted yesterday by the wedding of Captain Mark Phillips and Anne Windsor.

I interviewed there once. Though I didn’t get the job, it led, indirectly, to my current one. And the Indie was responsible for one of my favourite corrections ever. It appeared one February, and it ran, and again I paraphrase: Some readers have asked us to point out that the tree pictured in last week’s story about global warming is a winter-flowering cherry.

You can almost hear the teeth grinding in the newsroom as they were forced to put that one out.

On Social Media

I absolutely love this. In the outpouring over the death of David Bowie, one tweet went viral. “If you are ever sad, just remember the world is 4.543 bn years old and you somehow managed to exist at the same time as David Bowie.”

The tweet was ascribed to the actor Simon Pegg. Except that he doesn’t tweet any more. There is another Simon Pegg, who does, and whose offerings are often taken to be from the actor Simon Pegg, so it was then ascribed to him.

Except it wasn’t The Other Simon Pegg either. It was someone else .And it wasn’t initially about David Bowie. It may have come from a fan of Justin Bieber, back in the autumn. Or it may have been about the footballer Lionel Messi.  The exact sequence of events is unclear. In the revolving hall of mirrors that is social media, there is now probably no prospect of getting to the truth.

And I suspect it will continue to be assumed to be about David Bowie in future. It has become what the US writer Norman Mailer called a “factoid”, an inaccuracy so often repeated that it has become a form of truth.

Don’t believe everything you read on social media, then. Except here, of course.

On The BBC

Hardly a day goes by without me shouting at the radio. This is not a particularly rational way of behaving, because whichever speaker you are shouting at can’t hear you. But I do it anyway.

The culprit is generally the Today programme on R4, which acts as a backdrop to the first hour or more of my day. There is something peculiarly infuriating about the queue of middle-class professionals explaining how austerity should not apply to their own profession.

How the only solution to this often manufactured “problem” is that “the government” – never you and me – must devote more “resources” to it. Teachers, lawyers, social workers – all are convinced there is a bottomless pile of cash that can be deployed immediately.

Then there are the wowsers. The ones who want to stop you doing something because it might be bad for you. There was an irritating women the other day who wanted the soft drinks I buy for my kids to be made more expensive, in case someone else’s consume too much of them.

All these arguments go largely without challenge, especially from the less able presenters. (No names.) No one says, but hang on, we’re have four people on already today demanding more cash. Any government has to prioritise, especially today, don’t they?. And there seems to be a hard core of these special pleaders who appear all the time.

Now the Government wants to take on the BBC. I agree it is iniquitous that the license fee, a mandatory tax, should have been used to spend hundreds of millions developing a free news website that provides unfair competition to commercial organisations like my own that have to operate in the free market. I am not sure of the point of Radio 1.  Too much of the BBC’s output is meretricious trash that is no better than that churned out by the other channels.

Yet there is a suggestion that there needs to be a review of the BBC’s impartiality, or lack of it. At its worst, and the idea seems to have been watered down, some bunch of the great and the good may end up deciding over the political approach the state broadcaster should be allowed to take. This is hugely dangerous. State control of the news media has not tended to have been a good idea in the past, to say the least.

You could end up with a BBC whose political stance swung back and forwards with whatever administration was in power. Dangerous stuff, given the temptation to use that control to remain in power.

The BBC is irritating. The same smug liberal mindset does indeed permeate the place – I know plenty of people who work there. There are far too many of them. Still, stick with the devil you now, for fear of much worse.